Page last updated at 15:52 GMT, Tuesday, 30 September 2008 16:52 UK

Gurkhas' joy at court victory

A Gurkha outside the High Court
Gurkhas gathered at the High Court

By Lucy Wilkins
BBC News

Cold London rain could not dampen the spirits of retired Gurkhas as they celebrated winning the right to stay in the UK.

Dozens of them milled about outside the High Court, sheltering from the September rain in the portico of the ornate Royal Courts of Justice, as a judge inside was ruling on their two-year legal battle.

They successfully challenged immigration rules which said that those who retired from the British Army before 1997 did not have an automatic right to stay.

Before the legal team emerged victorious from court, a positive atmosphere prevailed, with about a dozen traditionally-dressed Nepalese women adding a dash of colour to the London street.

There's definitely going to be a celebration tonight
Prem Limbu
Retired Gurkha

One veteran, 36-year-old Prem Limbu, said before he entered the court that he hoped it would be a success - and he was not disappointed.

Those outside the courtroom first heard the news when one of their number flung open the heavy wooden court door with a shout and raised an arm, prompting applause and cheering, accompanied by bagpipes.

"There's definitely going to be a celebration tonight. This is a big day for us," Mr Limbu said, as all around him fellow veterans were congratulating each other. One Gurkha even lifted one of the legal team into the air in joy.

Mr Limbu had been "unhappy" that the British government could raise concerns about human rights abuses in China but appeared unwilling to acknowledge what he called abuses against Gurkhas.

"It's a double standard," said the soldier who had served for 16 years.

The Gurkhas had some high-level support in the form of Liberal Democrat politicians.

To the surprise and laughter of party leader Nick Clegg, one enthusiastic Gurkha introduced his predecessor Sir Menzies Campbell as his boss.

Joanna Lumley beside a retired Gurkha
Joanna Lumley shared the Gurkhas victory at court

Their most high profile supporter - actress Joanna Lumley - arrived at court to more cheering and clapping.

Wearing a yellow silk scarf, her speech in which she said she was "so proud of British justice and so proud of the Gurkhas" was greeted by more cheers.

Mr Limbu said that even though Nepal was not a Commonwealth country, the regiment had served throughout the Commonwealth and its citizens should be treated the same.

His feelings were backed by the judge, Mr Justice Blake, who said the Gurkhas' long service, conspicuous acts of bravery and loyalty to the Crown all pointed to a "moral debt of honour" and gratitude felt by British people.

The judgement could affect some 2,000 former Gurkhas who retired before 1997.

Among supporters at the court was Chandra Pakhrin, who retired in 1991 and had been living in the UK since 2006.

"I'm here to support those that are here, and also there are many in Nepal who would like to come to the UK," he said.

Another veteran, retired since 1979, spoke little English but, smiling broadly, he knew enough to say: "I am very happy today, very happy to win."

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